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Members of the media who were attacked while shooting footage at the San Fernando General Hospital speak to officials of SWRHA after the incident, yesterday.

SASCHA WILSON

Members of the media were physically and verbally assaulted by security guards at the San Fernando General Hospital yesterday. TV6 video journalist Cindy Raghubar-Teekasingh and Che Teekasingh were standing at the car park recording footage of a COVID-19 screening area near the Accident and Emergency Department when they were accosted by the guards. There have been similar assaults on media personnel by security guards at the hospital over the years.

A visibly shaken Raghubar-Teekasingh said although the car park is a public place she still informed two officials from the South West Regional Health Authority’s (SWRHA) Corporate Communications Department that they were on the compound.

“While recording one security officer came up to us and told us we cannot be here. We told him we can and we had permission. He was very aggressive towards us, started pushing our cameras away and threatening to call other people.”

Knowing that they were within their rights, she said they continued doing their job. “Then two other security officers came. The other was very aggressive to the TTT camera person. He threatened to arrest us and then he said he is going to come back with a baton if we didn’t listen. He did that. He left and came back with a baton.

“He was swinging the baton in front of the TTT camera person at which point I started recording the ordeal.

That’s when a female security officer came up to me and pushed my camera. She grabbed the lens and was twisting it. She then proceeded to grab my left hand. I told her to let me go.

“I was trying to record her at that time, she got more aggressive. She then took my hand and placed it to the back of me. She grabbed my other hand and put it to the back of me. So I was in a choke-hold basically. The grip was very tight.”

She said when other people started recording the incident, the security officer released her. Teekasingh said a male security officer was blocking his camera and demanding that they leave the compound. “We said sir are we allowed to be on the compound we are in a public space.”

He said another officer pushed him and he in turn pushed away the officer’s hand. He said the officer grabbed his camera, then left and returned with a baton and began hitting the camera which was still recording. Teekasingh called on the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) to take action against the guards. When other media arrived, the security guards also cautioned them against taking photographs or video recordings.

CNC3’s video journalist Ivan Toolsie was also assaulted by a female guard. SWRHA’s officials came shortly after the incident and indicated that members of the media were allowed on that area of the compound. A traumatised Teekasingh complained about experiencing pains to her wrists and indicated that she may have to seek medical treatment. They were uncertain whether their equipment was damaged. A report was made at the San Fernando Police Station. The South West Regional Health Authority subsequently issued a statement stating that an investigation has been launched to understand the circumstances which led to the unfortunate incident. According to the SWRHA, it will then determine the appropriate and necessary course of action to follow. Expressing regret that the incident occurred, the SWRHA restated its commitment to respect for freedom of the press.

The Media Association of T&T called on the police and SWRHA to deal with swiftly and forcefully the assault on media personnel by the hospital’s contracted security officers.